No. 10, 10 Years In

Now 32, Eli Manning is taking more of a leadership role in New York—starting with a Week 1 quest to continue his recent domination of the Cowboys

Eli Manning has had the Cowboys' number.
Eli Manning has had the Cowboys’ number. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Giants open at Dallas Sunday. It’ll be the start of Eli Manning’s 10th season in the NFL, which of course seems impossible. Wasn’t it four or five years ago, not nearly a decade, that Manning was standing there on the draft stage in New York, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there, holding a dark blue No. 1 Chargers jersey, flanked by commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his disapproving parents, Olivia and Archie Manning?

“I didn’t know if San Diego was going to pick me or not until about 10 minutes before the actual draft started,’’ Manning said on the eve of the season, at the Giants’ training facility in the shadow of MetLife Stadium. “I’m fortunate that the trade happened. I’m fortunate that it happened quickly also. I think it was about 30 or 45 minutes. Then I was traded to the Giants.’’

The rest is Super Bowl history, of course. Which brings up this point: Eli Manning doesn’t have the kind of annual pressure on him that most quarterbacks—maybe triply for a Tony Romo, his foe Sunday night in Arlington, Texas—have at this time of year. In the last seven seasons, six quarterbacks have won Super Bowls. Manning is the only man in that time to have won two. So it’s a little foolish to say, Eli Manning has to win this year or else. Or else what? Or else you’ll scream for another quarterback to play for the Giants?

Since the debacle of his rookie year, Manning has started every game New York has played—128 in the regular season, 11 in the postseason. In those eight seasons, Manning has never had a losing season. His numbers, compared to the luminous ones compiled by Drew Brees or Matthew Stafford, are meh. (If you call averaging 3,811 yards per season pedestrian.) He has played some stinkers. The Pittsburgh and Atlanta losses (23 of 49 combined) last year come to mind. But how many quarterbacks can go into San Francisco and whip the Niners 26-3, which Manning and the Giants did last year? How many can be behind the New England Patriots three straight games at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, and lead his team to the winning touchdown drive in the final moments? He did that too. Which is why there are no ultimatums in Eli Manning’s next couple of seasons—at least.

At 32, Manning settles into more of a leadership role with the Giants, which Tom Coughlin wants. “This year a little bit more,’’ said wideout Reuben Randle. “He’s always telling me, in the huddle and in meetings, what I need to do better. Not in a bad way. He’s like another teacher.” But not much will change with Manning as he approaches Dallas Sunday night.

“I think I’m a daily process guy,’’ Manning said. “I feel like the talent is there. It’s just a matter of can we take advantage of the opportunities and can we play to our level?’’

The daily process this week has been studying Dallas’ change from the 3-4 to the 4-3, but as Manning says, DeMarcus Ware is coming no matter whether he lines up as a defensive end or an outside linebacker. And with so many so-called 3-4 teams playing it maybe a third of the time, adjusting to the 4-3 won’t be hard work for the Giants.

Manning has had Romo’s number recently in the series, the Giants winning the last six of eight. If we know one thing, it’s that we should see points. Lots of them. The average score of the last eight meetings: Giants 29.9, Cowboys 27.4. the recent results are more fodder for those who—with justification—think Manning’s a clutch player late in the game, and that’s where Romo falls short.

One more note about the game that really gets under Jerry Jones’ skin: This will be the fifth meeting of the two teams at the giant stadium midway between Dallas and Fort Worth. The Giants have won all four previous games. There’s a quarterback and coach in Dallas who need to stop this, for their own job security, if for no other reason.

Sound Bite of the Week

“Cary’s a guy who’s very animated, who’s very angry sometimes, and that’s just how he is. We know him, but we love him to death.”

—Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, on hotheaded cornerback Cary Williams after Williams got into a fight at practice Thursday with wide receiver Riley Cooper.

Cary Williams doesn’t lead the league in aggression and ticking off teammates and foes; Miami guard Richie Incognito does. But Williams would be in a battle for No. 2 on that list.

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